Time to bring the houseplants in

By Kathy Conner Cornell VCE Southside Master Gardener I hope that you put your houseplants outside for the summer. Most houseplants origins are in tropical regions so they love heat and humidity. But as the temperatures dip, we need to get them back inside. I usually don’t think about this task until mid to late October, but this year might be different. If you feel that cooler temperatures are here earlier than normal, I would agree. Last year my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary so we had a big party on October 4th. The week leading up to the party had temperatures in the 90’s every day. I heard the meteorologist mention frost coming a few days ago. Regardless, if we enjoy our houseplants we need to pay attention. Most houseplants can take temperatures in the 50’s and even a couple of nights in the 40’s. Below mid 40’s you stand a chance of losing them.
This wax begonia has enjoyed the time outside this summer but needs to be brought inside the house now that the days are getting cooler. Before bringing the plants indoors, cut off dead or dying foliage or cut back runners to create a fuller plant. Inspect for insects, a strong spray of water from the hose will remove any critters. If you find scale, use cotton balls dipped in alcohol to remove the scale. I have found that if I had an insect problem when I took the plants outside the beneficial insects would generally take care of the pests. Once I brought in my bromeliads and about a week later I noticed a frog. I thought that my friend Judith might have brought me a pot decoration. I reached out for it and it jumped. Will inspect those plants a bit closer this year. Now is a good time to repot if the plant needs a bigger space. Don’t select a pot more than 2” larger or you may sacrifice blooms or vegetative growth for root building. If you want to keep the plant approximately the same size use the root pruning technique. It is easier than it sounds. Remove the plant from the pot and looking down at the soil line picture a pie cut into six pieces. Take a sharp knife and hack down to the bottom of the roots and cut out every other wedge, don’t cut into the foliage, just roots. Slice off about a 1” cut across the bottom. Repot in the same pot or one of similar size and fill in the gaps with fresh potting soil. Generally the most common cause of houseplant death is overwatering. As the days get shorter, plants are photosynthesizing less so need less water. During the winter months I only water once every week and a half where I usually water once a week during the warmer months. When I went to school my interior plants (another term for houseplants) instructor said it was best to use a quarter dose of fertilizer at each watering rather than a big blast once a month. I don’t like to use synthetic fertilizers so use organic types. Fish emulsion just doesn’t work in the house. My husband wants to know why he smells low tide. I find that worm castings are better. Using organic fertilizers eliminates the white build up on the pot which are salts from the synthetic fertilizers. Don’t fertilize during the months of December, January and February. Your plants need their winter rest. Houseplants do bring color into our homes while outside we mostly see browns and tans. I really enjoy my Christmas cacti and my bromeliads which never fail to bloom during the winter. While we are all still practicing ‘social distancing’ due to COVID-19, and all Halifax County buildings remain closed to the public, if you have gardening questions, you can best reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to wmccaleb@vt.edu. If you can’t email, you can call and leave a message at the Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at 434-830-3383, giving us your name, telephone number, and nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is checked timely and someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask and bring your houseplants indoor for some winter color.